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We talk a lot about discipleship in our house.
We have people living with us constantly, we have a small leadership team who we meet with regularly in the week and we have the people in the wider church who the leadership team connect with regularly. Reading ‘Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus’ by Ann Spangler and Lois Trevberg, and having previously listened to lots of fascinating talks by Ray Vander Lann, I have been reflecting more on what discipleship meant in Jesus’ day. What assumptions and distortions have we put on the word ‘discipleship’ when we look at it through Western eyes?
Be honest, how would you define ‘making disciples?’ Bear in mind, Jesus told his first disciples to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ and those of us who wish to be known as Jesus’ disciples have the same call today.
Perhaps for you, like for me, you might use the word ‘teaching’, or you might think about meeting up once a week for a bible study and prayer. Perhaps it means encouraging those under your leadership to attend church regularly or take on responsibilities within the church. Perhaps it includes a mentoring time once a month.
These are all great.
But they are far from the Eastern view of discipleship.
It is far from what Jesus modeled.
In Jesus’ day:
1) Disciples were called by a rabbi to give up everything and follow the rabbi, wherever they went. That meant eating together, living together and sometimes even going to the bathroom together! The disciple would not want to miss out on anything they could learn from their rabbi.
2) Disciples served their rabbi and learnt humility doing so. This was important to make their hearts moldable and open to the strong character-transforming teaching of the rabbi.
3) Disciples received training ‘on the job’, by learning from real-life situations. Verbal teaching was often a result of an issue that had been highlighted or a situation that arose. The rabbi favored the use of parables or illustrations to help hammer the point home to the disciple.
So that leads me to consider some important questions:
1) Who are my disciples and am I willing to live transparently before them and include them in much of my daily life?
2) Am I modeling servant leadership? If so, where in turn, can my disciples learn to serve so they can have their hearts softened?
3) Am I taking the time to prayerfully highlight issues with my disciples, explaining and teaching them the right way to go?
It also highlights for me the importance of missional communities and community living as being powerful tools for discipleship.
Since moving to Peru, we have had many ‘disciples’, live with us for a time – those who have ‘caught’ what we are about much more than having been ‘taught’. We have seen the power of opening our lives up to others.
I recognize too that intentional discipleship is costly – it is sacrificial and down right hard at times to demonstrate servant-leadership early in the morning, to confront your own issues and apologize and address those of your disciples, all the while choosing to live transparently. It is hard to have people sharing your house, your fridge, and your soap but not your washing up! No wonder Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
What about those who I call ‘disciples’ in the church? Am I actually discipling others or am I keeping them at a distance, teaching them with words or studies, but unwilling to allow them access to me, my life, my family, my ‘free-time’?
I’m not saying we should not have boundaries, but as with parenting children, are we allowing our disciples to experience our lives, see our weaknesses, ‘catch’ our strengths and be challenged?
Who are you truly discipling?